When the talking stops

Discussing Sunday’s Munster Championship clash at the South Court Hotel, Limerick were former Tipperary hurler, Liam Sheedy, Diarmuid O’Flynn and former Limerick hurler, Gary Kirby.

Liam Sheedy: Have you read the book - Dunne deals with the incident at length in his autobiography, I Crossed The Line?

Gary Kirby: No.

Diarmuid O’Flynn: How do you feel about it now?

GK: Willie Barrett was a linesman in that game, and said to me afterwards, ‘Dunne should have gone’, but he could do nothing about it. Pat Horan was the referee, I was told he was shaking with nerves before the game.

LS: I thought it was a dirty belt.

DOF: Why didn’t someone from Limerick, someone like Mike Houlihan, do something about it? Was it because of what happened with Sean O’Neill and George O’Connor at the throw-in (Limerick midfielder O’Neill poked Wexford veteran O’Connor twice, not a wise thing to do to a guy who had a well-earned reputation as a man who would eat iron, spit nails; on the second poke, O’Connor flattened O’Neill)?

GK: Maybe, that’s a fair point. O’Neill was warned beforehand, over and over again, not to touch George O’Connor, but he must have fancied his chances. All that year, in training, we used to just puck the ball down between O’Neill and Houlihan, stand back and watch the fireworks. A great time, the number of hurleys broken! Just throw it down on top of them, and stand back.

LS: I remember a League game against Limerick, Mike Houlihan left me with a bruise from me knee to me arse. Hard man, alright. A critical thing that day though was Wexford’s discipline; no frees in the second half, that was unbelievable.

GK: Two frees we got in the whole game, but then their discipline wasn’t really tested either. People wonder why that Limerick team didn’t win an All-Ireland. In my thirteen years playing with Limerick (1987-99), we didn’t win one penalty. That shows we weren’t taking on teams up front, we weren’t running at them, we weren’t aggressive enough. It’ll be different on Sunday though, we have a man who will run at Tipp.

DOF: Who’s that?

GK: Donie Ryan. Andrew (O’Shaughnessy) can do the same, but the only worry I’d have with him, he’s like an open book, you can read him too easily.

DOF: Andrew was very effective against Laois, in Limerick’s final League game, looked like the ‘Shocks’ of old, when he was scoring cricket scores at underage.

GK: I didn’t see him in that match, and I hope you’re right. But I think Donie could be the man to win this for Limerick. He has great pace, aggression, has played really well for Garryspillane in the last couple of years. If he can do that for Limerick on Sunday, he’ll win three or four frees on his own.

LS: I’d agree with that. I’ve seen him in club hurling in Limerick (Liam was involved with Adare last year, beaten by Ryan’s club, Garryspillane, in the championship), he’s a top-class forward. He’s the only man I’ve seen to really trouble Paul Ormonde, and that’s a fair achievement.

DOF: What do you think of Tipp’s chances on Sunday?

LS: We have a lot to do, no question about it, but the same thing could be said about Limerick. Go back to the League game, in the Gaelic Grounds, the match was over after twenty minutes, Limerick were very poor (Tipp 4-14 to 3-11, Limerick scoring two goals in injury-time). But then you can go to Tipp’s form in Thurles all year, very poor also, we won only one game, and that only came in injury time, against Down. There are a lot of questions about both teams.

DOF: What about Limerick, Gary?

GK: If Limerick win, it will really boost them. We’ve already had a great boost there a couple of weeks ago with the win by the minors over Tipperary (Liam was involved with the Tipp minors)

LS: Thanks very much, I should have seen that one coming! After St. Flannan’s beat St. Kieran’s in the All-Ireland Colleges, with several of the Clare minors on board, we were very encouraged, given the way we’d beaten Clare. We felt we had a good chance of Munster this year, but Limerick finished that.

GK: I’m serious though, that was a great win for us. If we could do it again now on Sunday, it will give the whole county a huge lift.

DOF: 1973, 31 years and counting, since Limerick won the All-Ireland senior. You were involved with the team that came closer than any to ending that run, what does the current team need to do, to win an All-Ireland?

GK: Win on Sunday, that’s all. All this team needs is to start winning championship games. We lost to Tipperary in 1990 and 91, but I remember in 92, we reached the Munster final, won the National League as well, beat Tipperary in the final, and that gave us confidence. I know we lost to Clare in 93, but by then we had belief, and that’s what got us started on that run in 1994. That’s all this side needs now, a win to get them started. Winning cures everything, that would put all their troubles behind them.

DOF: There’s an air of doom and gloom in Tipp, but a lot of this side were there when they won the All-Ireland in 2001 and reached the semi-final in each of the following two years. They can’t be that far off the pace, surely?

LS: Absolutely not, in fact I would argue that on any given day, any of the top teams can beat each other. Go back to last year, Limerick could have beaten Cork in the first game in Munster, Waterford did beat Cork, Limerick could have beaten Tipperary in the qualifiers, Tipperary could have beaten Cork, Clare could have beaten Kilkenny. With twenty minutes to go in the Tipp/Cork game, Eoin Kelly got a point for Tipp when you’d have put your house on him getting a goal. If that had gone in, it would have been game on again, and who knows what would have happened? There isn’t the gap there between Cork, Kilkenny and the rest, that everyone seems to think there is.

The big difference between ourselves and Limerick is that if Limerick win on Sunday, it will be seen as a major achievement by the supporters, the whole county will get behind them. Whereas, if Tipp win, well, it’s only the first round, no-one will be getting that excited. Expectations are much higher, Tipp supporters are more demanding. First they’ll be looking for a Munster title, then it’s the All-Ireland. I’d say that pressure tells on a lot of the players, you can see it in them.

DOF: How important is support?

LS: Very important, and one of the biggest worries I have is that Limerick supporters could actually outnumber Tipp in Thurles such is the lack of interest, the lack of confidence. If you then have the scenario where it’s a tight game, maybe Limerick a point or two ahead, the crowd could make a major difference. I remember when Limerick were on that All-Ireland U-21 three-in-a-row run, the crowds they brought to Thurles were massive and made a major difference in a couple of games.

GK: The Limerick fans are fantastic. That was the case in 94 and 96, there must have been 20,000 Limerick fans travelling to every game. Even in 1984, when we won the minor All-Ireland, there was a replay against Kilkenny in Thurles, and it was all Limerick. In 1996, the day we pulled back a ten-point lead against Tipperary in the Munster final, we came out five minutes before Tipperary for the second half. I was talking to Michael Cleary later, and he couldn’t believe it. They were ten points up, in Limerick, but when they came back out, all they could hear was the Limerick crowd. He said to me, “it had to give ye a boost.” And it did. They are surely among the best supporters in the country.

DOF: Who’ll win this one?

GK: If you had asked me that two months ago, I’d have said there was no way Limerick will even come near winning, but I sense that there’s something good happening. I would give them my vote of confidence.

LS: Tipp’s critical line is the half-forward line. If Benny Dunne, Francis Devanney and John Devane can break down the Limerick half-back line, we’ll get enough ball inside to win the game. Our inside line is very good, Eoin (Kelly), Larry (Corbett) and Paddy O’Brien. If they get the ball, we’ll win it. In fact, I’d be watching out for Lar Corbett for man-of-the-match. It’s going to be tight, it will go right down to the wire, but I think Tipp will do it.

DOF: Neither of you seem very sure?

GK: No, I wouldn’t be saying it will definitely happen, anyway. I’d have the same worry as Liam, about our half-forward line. We could be in trouble at centre-forward. Niall Moran isn’t a play-maker. I don’t think he’s a central player.

LS: I can see Ollie Moran starting at centre-back for Limerick also.

GK: No, he’s a better wing-back. When he’s centre-back, he tries too much hurling and gets caught.

DOF: What about Stephen Lucey at full-back?

GK: That has to be another question mark. Lucey is doing his internship as a doctor and hasn’t a lot of hurling done, certainly hasn’t a lot of hurling done as a full-back. He’s a class hurler but I’d have my doubts here.

LS: While we’re talking about full-back lines, I’ve never seen a Tipp full-back line to leak as many goals as we’re doing at the moment, which is one reason I’m glad to see Philip Maher back. In 2002, when I was involved with Tipp, he was the one man who stood up to Kilkenny, when everything around him was falling apart. He’s a great bit of stuff and will play better with Martin beside him.

DOF: Who’ll win the Munster Championship?

LS: The thing is, everyone can beat everyone else. I think Waterford will beat Cork, but Tipp could beat them; they could hurl Cork if they reach the Munster final. The trouble is, if we do get over Limerick, Clare could beat us, and I could see that happening, especially in the Gaelic Grounds, they’ll ate you alive in there.

GK: I can’t see beyond Cork, to be honest.

DOF: The All-Ireland?

GK: Same again, I can’t see anyone beating Cork.

LS: I don’t know. I can’t see Kilkenny winning it, I think they’ll get caught. They’re up so high now, all the other eight teams who have a chance of winning the All-Ireland will be gunning for them. But, which of those eight will win the All-Ireland, I don’t know, you don’t know what way it will pan out. Waterford could lose the first round, against Cork, I don’t think Ken McGrath, Paul Flynn and Tony Browne are ready, but when they’re all back to full fitness for the qualifiers, Waterford could go on to win the All-Ireland. They are that good, they have the forwards; when Waterford are on song, there isn’t a team in Ireland to touch them. There’s still an All-Ireland in them.

DOF: Do you like the new system?

GK: Not particularly. The new system favours the stronger counties - it certainly doesn’t do any favours to the weaker counties. When I was playing, if you got Cork or Tipperary on an off-day, it was great. We beat Cork in 94, 4-14 to 4-11, but if they’d had a second chance at us, I don’t know what would have happened. The All-Ireland final last year should have been between Waterford and Wexford, and it would have been a flaking All-Ireland. But both of them were beaten, by Kilkenny and Cork, who were getting a second chance. What did that do for hurling?

LS: If Tipp beat Limerick tomorrow, then beat Clare in the Munster semi-final, then beat Cork, they will only be at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage, the same stage as Kilkenny, who will have a stroll through Leinster. After winning three big matches, against three top teams? That’s not a fair system. Would it not have been fairer to have an open draw after the Munster and Leinster championships, with the top teams seeded, depending on their performance in those championships?

GK: That’s a good idea, keeps some meaning in the Munster and Leinster championship. The major championship is the All-Ireland; all five teams in Munster have won the Munster title within the last ten years, so winning that title isn’t the priority it was, even for the likes of Clare and Waterford.

LS: ...And the same applies to the big three in Leinster, Kilkenny, Wexford and Offaly.

GK: You now have the situation where even if they’re beaten in Munster, fellas can say, ‘right lads, we’ll see what we can learn from this, move on to the next match’. The same bite isn’t there. Think of what it would be like this Sunday if it was the old system, straight knockout, one team gone. You wouldn’t have to worry about crowds then...

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